back to article Virgin Media: SO SORRY we fined your dead dad £10 for unpaid bill

Virgin Media has apologised after charging a dead man £10 for being unable to pay his broadband bill. The bloke's son-in-law Jim Boyden posted a photo of the demand for the tenner on Facebook, along with an open letter accusing the UK internet provider's staff of a "special kind of meanness". Almost 100,000 people have now …

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  1. Jon Green
    FAIL

    Outstanding

    ""We've [...] offered our sincerest apologies as automated responses from banks should not appear on customer bills."

    So what Virgin Media are really sorry about is having admitted that they knew why the bill wasn't paid. I don't see anything, anywhere, suggesting that they're going to stop charging dead people, just that they are embarrassed about being caught knowingly at it.

    1. Steve Knox Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Virgin's Next Apology

      "We sincerely apologize for our spokesman's statement about automated bank responses, as information about our company's actual motivations should not appear in public statements."

    2. AceRimmer
      Boffin

      Re: Outstanding

      I don't think that Virgin did actually know why the bill wasn't paid. The automated billing system will probably just register the fact the payment has been declined and then blindly attach the decline message from the bank without any parsing or checking for reasons.

      I presume that as we speak, some poor Indian is having to trawl through all the declined messages every received and add filters to the system to make sure that any Account Holder is Dead messages are handled in a more sensitive manner,

      1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

        Re: Outstanding

        "I don't think that Virgin did actually know why the bill wasn't paid"

        There's a 'dead person' identifier on the letter, in which case Virgin's systems ought to have recognised it and passed it to a human to deal with. Unless, that is, they don't have any humans doing humane stuff.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Down

          Re: Outstanding

          If you don't give the system something like a trigger that will flag this kind of thing up, then it can't really trigger it, can it? And triggering *every* DD that failed would be daft.

          Who knows what the banks provide as standard response for 'account holder deceased'... is that text that can be modified or is it an industry-standard response (i.e. provided by APACS)? If it's not an industry-standard response, what do you expect an automated system to look for?

          1. Tim Brown 1
            Pint

            Re: Outstanding

            @sp why would it be daft to have a human look at the reason for every declined direct debit? Do Virgin have such a high volume of declined payments that they couldn't cope? Is it old-fashioned to have humans actually doing a job?

            At the present time, humans are still much better at context than computers.

            1. AceRimmer

              Re: Outstanding

              "At the present time, humans are still much better at context than computers."

              And also much more expensive, which is why they tend to be eschewed in favour of electronic slaves

              For the record, I'm not exonerating Virgin Media, I'm just accusing them of incompetence rather than being money grabbing unsympathetic bastards

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Outstanding

              Tim, as much as you would think it would make sense to have a team of people looking at why DDs were declined, it does not make commercial sense to, especially considering that most companies (including media providers like Virgin Media) retry again a few days later.

              I'm not saying that under no circumstances should humans be used (I would in fact very much prefer seeing human intervention/supervision on failed payments), but in this world of counting and chasing pennies for the bottom line, having to pay someone £20K/year or more to do this 'just in case' is not a viable business case.

              Sorry, but that's the reality.

              1. Tim Brown 1
                Pint

                Re: Outstanding

                @sp I'm not convinced that it would actually have much commercial impact to have a human review all declined payments and indeed may have a positive effect on the bottom line if you end up with improved customer relations and goodwill. Unless there are an enormous number it wouldn't be a fulltime job for even one person.

                For example, you have a report onscreen where you can see a list of summary details, the bank's message and the computer system's proposed action. Scan the list for anomalies, examine in further detail any account that stands out and if necessary take out of the automatic system. Probably take an hour or two a day at most. To cut it down even further, you could restrict the accounts reviewed to just those where the bank's message was one that the computer did not have a programmed action for.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Outstanding

                  Tim, unfortunately logic (which is what you're using) does not factor into some of the boneheaded decisions made by managers on the quest for 'improving the bottom line'. Customer goodwill does not have an immediate monetary value, and does not factor into equations (although, as you so eloquently point out, it should).

                  Your example would assume that someone actually wrote a piece of software that allows you to do this kind of job elegantly and efficiently. The reality is unfortunately somewhat different.

              2. Fatman
                FAIL

                RE: ... is not a viable business case.

                Then, what is?? It sounds like typical shitty customer service - period.

                Back in February, my ISP tried to sneak through a rate increase through two separate methods.

                One was a direct increase, one that you could not do much about, except cancel their service.

                The other was through a modem rental fee that was applied to any ISP supplied modems. Quick calculations showed that I could get a better modem for about what a year's worth of rental costs would be. So, I returned the dammed thing, on February 27.

                Now, do you think that my going in to their office and returning the modem would get it removed from my account, and not incur a new modem rental fee, then I have some Florida swampland I could sell you. Because IT DID NOT!!!!!

                The March bill came in with the fee for a modem that was returned before the beginning of the month; which resulted in my having to take the time to call up those incompetent bastards and complain. Their customer disservice representative did remove the charge, but he failed to remove the code indicating that I had one of their modems from my account.

                I found that out this month when April's bill arrived, the same shit AGAIN!!!!! Again, I had to call and complain. This is behavior that typifies large companies - lazy, incompetent customer disservice departments.

                <------------ So, Brighthouse, that one's for you.

                1. Gene Cash Silver badge
                  Go

                  Re: RE: ... is not a viable business case.

                  Ah yes, the same Brighthouse where the billing system has special code to defeat any attempt to paste in your checking account number and routing number, or your name (which must match their records exactly, including misspelling, punctuation and mis-capitalization)

                  The same Brighthouse where I filed an FCC complaint about them highjacking my DNS, causing SAMBA to break, then they said "hey, you can use Google's DNS, case closed!" and I had to reopen it.

                  The same Brighthouse where I couldn't view youtube videos w/o insane amounts of buffering (and other network issues) so I opened a VPN account and started naming'n'shaming on Twitter where Brighthouse started following me and anything I tweeted about suddenly stopped being an issue, despite all the tech support tickets I filed being totally ignored.

                  Then we can discuss Verizon, where my attempts to pay my ETF 1) in-store when I closed my account, 2) through the website, 3) over the phone, and 4) back at the store again were all rejected until I filed yet another FCC complaint.

                  I am watching Virgin get smacked about with no small amount of glee.

                2. TheTick

                  Re: RE: ... is not a viable business case.

                  @ Fatman

                  I've had a similar issue with a phone I returned to Vodafone but they failed to cancel the contract on it and proceeded to set up a direct debit and bill me (which they couldn't because I cancelled the DD). Talking to their customer service was completely futile, the only action I took that got a response was a small claims court action after months of frustration. I had to take action because they put a black mark on my credit record, which was eventually removed and returned to spotlessness.

                  Keep a log of everything you have communicated with that lot, all calls, letters and time taken (keep as much proof as possible) then send them a small claims court action for recompense of your expenses and time. Claim for double your hourly working rate (after all it's essentially overtime running around after their failures), and also state that you want the system corrected to not have this problem again.

                  After you have sent in the small claims - sit back and relax as the company shit themselves and solve all your problems, paying you for the privilege (accept a smaller sum than you originally claimed, to show yourself as a reasonable person).

                  Above all don't let it get your blood pressure up too much, I let that happen and it's no good at all. You will get justice if you have the patience.

                  https://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/web/mcol/welcome

                  1. MrXavia

                    @TheTick RE: Small Claims

                    So far i've been able to avoid the small claims courts for idiot companies..

                    Usually after the 3rd unhelpful call I say something along the lines of "Either you sort the problem out or I'll be forced to contact trading standards(or whatever the relevant Quango is) and then consider taking you to the small claims court to get satisfaction"

                    I say 3rd unhelpful, as I acknowledge sometimes issues take time to fix and can't be done in 1-2 phone calls

              3. Gerhard Mack

                Re: Outstanding

                There is no need to go through all DDs that got declined, just the ones with messages the system didn't manage to parse on it's own.

            3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
              Coat

              Re: Outstanding

              > humans are still much better at context than computers.

              I can see some semi-literate minimum-wage type looking at and and thinking:

              "payment - late

              customer - late.

              looks OK to me."

              1. Rukario
                Joke

                Re: Outstanding

                > humans are still much better at context than computers.

                I can see some semi-literate minimum-wage type looking at and and thinking: "payment - late - customer - late. - looks OK to me."

                That's not human, that's Magrathean.

            4. InsaneGeek
              Facepalm

              Re: Outstanding

              In 2007 Virgin TV had 3.6 million subscribers, since the numbers of decliens aren't known publicly. I have worked at a monthly subscription based ISP previously the number of declined charges we had were more than 1% of the subscriber base (I don't know the exact numbers but more than 1% and less than 10%), so with ~3.6 million subs no matter where you are in the range (1-10%) we are talking a rather large numbers of declines monthly (30-300k per month), which would be something rather costly to deal with by hand just to catch the odd unformatted text string .

              1. Really Anonymous Coward

                Re: Outstanding

                Most interfaces to BACS work in the same way. When a payment is declined a reason code is returned. One of the values for this code is definitely Payer Deceased (I have set up interfaces to these systems myself)

                Most Billing/Payment processing software lets the Operator perform different actions based on the code.

                For example, insufficient funds might trigger a resweep. A similar message is sent if the account details have changed (to let the operator update their records).

                Payer Deceased should of course route it to the manual team, and cancel the DD agreement so no more payments.

                Given this team exists, this is probably how it's supposed to work. I'm guessing a bug got in the way...

                1. Tom 13

                  Re: I'm guessing a bug got in the way

                  That was my assumption as well. And I'll take it a step further. I'll bet the bug is with the bank code, not the Virgin processing. Because what we have here is one person making a huge hoopla about something that is bound to happen from time to time. If the bug were on the Virgin side, they'd be flooded with the issue.

              2. This post has been deleted by its author

            5. kain preacher Silver badge

              Re: Outstanding

              When I did tech support for ATT DSL 1/4 of my day was spent reconnecting people that were disconnected for non payment.

            6. Killraven

              Re: Outstanding

              1) Logistics of scale.

              2) Probably.

              3) Yes, for this sort of thing.

              4) Yes, but also much more expensive.

              What is not mentioned in the article is, when, or even if, any family member actually contacted Virgin to inform them of their customer's death. Perhaps I missed mention of it, if so, apologies tendered. If not, then the son-in-law is being a right prick about it all.

        2. Annihilator
          Boffin

          Re: Outstanding

          "There's a 'dead person' identifier on the letter, in which case Virgin's systems ought to have recognised it and passed it to a human to deal with. Unless, that is, they don't have any humans doing humane stuff."

          But their systems can't recognise it as the account holder being deceased, they can only recognise it as the bank account holder being deceased. The person owning the bank account and the person owning the Virgin account can be two different people.

      2. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: Outstanding

        I'm changing my surname to "Deceased" :)

      3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Outstanding

        "I presume that as we speak, some poor Indian is having to trawl through all the declined messages every received and add filters to the system to make sure that any Account Holder is Dead messages are handled in a more sensitive manner,"

        You make it sound like that's a bad thing for vermin Virgin to do.

  2. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    WTF?

    What are they sorry for?

    Do I get this right, Virgin Media is sorry that they included the bank response ("Payer deceased") on the bill? Not that they didn't realise their client was dead and they charged him for late payment.

    1. JeeBee
      FAIL

      Re: What are they sorry for?

      It appears so.

      For all we know the entity at fault is the bank for changing what they respond with when a direct debit is cancelled. So any prior checks that were in place, e.g. "if decline_reason contains 'dead' then escalate_to_bereavement_team" were flummoxed because the bank using "deceased" all of a sudden, rather than "dead". I wouldn't be surprised with the IT cowboys working in banks if these systems didn't include an infallible error code so string matching could be avoided.

      You can't blame an automated system doing what it was programmed to do, when something not under its control changes. OTOH I would presume the bank would have notified its clients of the API change well in advance, so it's a management failure within Virgin Media that failed to get their processing systems updated at the correct time.

      1. Really Anonymous Coward

        Re: What are they sorry for?

        Unlikely. The error codes in the responses (ARUDD files) a single character code. There is a fairly standard list of values.

        They probably managed some sort of regression...

  3. adnim Silver badge
    Unhappy

    When my mother died

    I informed them.

    They sent me her unpaid bill.

    Other companies may do this too. However, it is something I would never do.

    1. insanity
      Devil

      Re: When my mother died

      Unfortunately, dying is not a way to escape debts. Whether or not you agree with this, the cold facts of the matter are that your debts as well as your assets make up your estate, and that is all inherited by your next of kin.

      I'm not saying that companies shouldn't act more considerately, and perhaps allow retrospective cancellation of the account from the date of death (without applying any silly 30 day notice periods or anything), but unpaid bills need to be paid regardless.

      1. frank ly Silver badge

        @insanity Re: When my mother died

        " ... your debts as well as your assets make up your estate, and that is all inherited by your next of kin."

        Your statement implies that debts are inherited - they are not. Any creditor can make a claim against the estate of a deceased person but the claim is against the estate, not the person who inherits the estate. If your mother/father dies, with zero formal/recorded assets and debts of £500 (lets say), then you, the child of the deceased, do not owe the creditors anything.

        That exact situation happened to me, when my mother died and I just ignored all the letters that had been sent to her (at her old address) and forwarded to me. There is nothing the creditors can do.

        If my mother had died with £1000 in the bank, then I would have been morally and legally obliged to pay the debts before keeping the remainder for myself. I did consider writing to the solicitors and debt collection agency, and gas/electric companies, and Virgin Media, and the local council, and the water board.........., but I knew they would then have my home address and would send their crap through the mail to me. So I just ignored them and had a lot less work to do.

      2. adnim Silver badge

        @insanity Re: When my mother died

        I see your point and the that bill was directed against her estate rather than me personally.

        However, we are talking about a company with annual profits in the millions and a debt of £97 and some pennies run up by a private individual who had no savings and was living on a pension, not a business or corporation.

        If companies actually employed people and not machines to run their finances and treated their customers as people and not account numbers perhaps we as the consumer would have more respect for them. And, perhaps situations such as this would not arise in the first place. To large corporations we are not people, we are sources of income for some investor/shareholder to whom all this kind of thing is just a game.

        I really despair of a capitalist system that does not empathise or understand that customers are more than just numbers on a balance sheet, they are people that feel, bleed and hurt.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: If companies actually employed people and not machines...have more respect for them.

          No you wouldn't. You'd bitch incessantly about how f***ing greedy and insensitive those captialist bastards were.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: When my mother died

        "perhaps allow retrospective cancellation of the account from the date of death (without applying any silly 30 day notice periods or anything)"

        I liked the idea of "Please take notice that I shall be dead in 30 days, so please take notice that I wish to cancel my subscription".

      4. LateNightLarry
        Pint

        Re: When my mother died

        However, if the estate has no assets, the bills have to be written off because, at least in California, creditors cannot go after the heirs to collect... They're simply SOL...

        Have to pretend that's a wine glass because El Reg won't give me a glass of cabernet sauvignon... or merlot.

    2. Gav

      Re: When my mother died

      The issue here is not the bill, it's the fine Virgin Media issued which was dumb and insensitive.

      If someone is provided a service and subsequently dies, that doesn't mean the provider of the service doesn't get paid. They are still owed by the person's estate. You probably had probate on your mother's estate, so they were entirely correct to send the bill to you.

      It's not pleasant during a difficult time, but it has to be done.

      1. JeeBee
        Terminator

        Re: When my mother died

        You are aware that these bills are never seen by a human being, they're created, printed and posted by an automated system.

        That system applies fines for missing a payment automatically.

        The system can only deal with what it knows. It hadn't been programmed to check direct debit refused due to death reasons - perhaps it's a new bank feature to include that text in the direct debit failure message. Integration of many many different systems run by different companies is not easy.

        And the DD would have failed after his death, and the contract ends at the point of death, the fine would have been reversed anyway, coming after the date of death. One phone call and it's resolved unless the customer service agent is inept.

        1. Jedit
          Mushroom

          "You are aware that these bills are never seen by a human being"

          Unlike Atos reports, which have on several occasions now declared that a dead person is fit for work.

          Mind you, given Atos' track record for recommending that the benefits of critically disabled or terminally ill people be stopped, I don't think being compiled by a staff member rules out their never having been seen by a human being.

        2. Fatman

          Re: ... unless the customer service agent is inept.

          Unfortunately, at too many $BIGCORPs, that is a job requirement.

  4. nuked
    Holmes

    Until consumers use the weapon of choice to hold these providers to higher standards of behaviour, then they (we) will continue to be shafted with near-criminal fines/charges, and p1ss-poor customer service. Ala Energy, Water, Mobile Phones etc. etc.

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      I can't afford to die.

      When my brother died it was the media companies who fought the hardest to get not only the last bill but the cancallation fees paid as well. They only gave up when we pointed out he was a young man with no estate for them to sue.

      Which reminds me that when my granny died her credit card company sold the (tiny) debt onto a debt collection agency that used a solicitor to send threatening letters to the whole family implying we were all liable for her debts (which had magically inflated due to their unavoidable costs). Took a few words with the law society to sort that one out.

      There is a whole subsection of various industries who try to exploit the death of people and the grief of those close to them. They deserve all the press they get.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I can't afford to die.

        Similar scumbag treatment when my father died. A well known credit card company starting with B weren't content with waiting to be paid, told me I was liable for payment, and the bank associated with said card company withdrew my current account as a result. I was 18 at the time. I've never used that bank since, and by recent headlines, they're still playing those games, only at the level of the nation-state.

      2. Dr Paul Taylor

        Re: I can't afford to die.

        If possible, especially if the amounts of money are small, it is easier just to pretend to be the person or say that you are doing things on their behalf than to tell bureaucrats that someone had died or that they have Alzheimers and you have lasting power of attorney for them. If you tell them that there is some legal piece of paper they will stop doing anything until they have the original. Spoken from experience.

    2. Lamont Cranston

      I don't think much of the company that bills me for my water consumption.

      What should I do - take my custom elsewhere?

  5. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Flame

    "Corporations [...] recognise that everyone needs a Twitter and a Facebook account"

    Do they? I don't.

    Maybe they should concentrate their customer service efforts in other areas.

    1. Darryl

      Re: "Corporations [...] recognise that everyone needs a Twitter and a Facebook account"

      There's a big difference (at least in expense) between having a competent customer service department and having Jeff in Sales set up one of them Twitty account things because he knows that computer stuff.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: "Corporations [...] recognise that everyone needs a Twitter and a Facebook account"

        But as soon as something blows up in public it's amazing how quickly Jeff in sales can get things passed onto the right people, on the other hand if you use traditional methods you're banging your head against a brick wall. Should I have to solve every problem in a blaze of publicity? Good customer service can be done. Orange managed it, until France Telecom came along.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A debt is still a debt.

    Death is no respite from paying bills, I have previously pursued a customers estate for payment. Just because someone dies, doesnt mean all debts are cancelled - not so sure how rolling contracts are affected tho.

    Anon because Im a cold hearted ruthless bastard.

    1. JeeBee
      Meh

      Re: A debt is still a debt.

      I believe the debt can come from the deceased's estate, but it can't go any further than that.

      So if you sold someone who died something, then you get the payment from their estate, or maybe you get the thing back.

      I guess that for rolling contracts the company will get the phone/tablet/whatever back, as death is a reasonable reason for contract termination at any point (or the company should suck up the loss due to their subsidised device sales model). But I can believe that scummy companies will still try to apply termination fees in such a case. However the internet says: "I can confirm that upon receipt of the death certificate the contract is terminated immediately and all charges credited from the date of death."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A debt is still a debt.

        But I can believe that scummy companies will still try to apply *termination* fees in such a case

        Was that supposed to be a pun? :)

      2. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: A debt is still a debt.

        It's the definition of estate that is the only source of confusion. Most people don't understand what it means. In effect, I haven't "died", I'm still around in the form of my estate. Pretend I'm infirm, and so someone is nominated to take care of my life. That's the estate, and the "executor" of the estate. They won't be paying my bills from their pocket, ever, but they will handle what money and assets I still have left and paying off debts on my behalf. My personal debts, however, do NOT become their personal debts.

        Also, if I die leaving a millions pounds of debt, but only half a million pounds to my family, that half-a-million will never go to my family. If it does, it will be pursued and reclaimed. It doesn't matter what my will says that's not my money to bequeath. (This applies to a lot more in wills than you might think - if you attach ANY condition to a sum of money or asset in a will, for example "only if he gets good grades" or "only if he doesn't marry that woman", then the person who would get the money can sue the estate for it, no questions asked, no matter what they have done. Always check with a lawyer.)

        So they can pursue the estate, and the person who managed the estate, but they cannot expect even that person to pay them money from their own pocket. It comes from the estate. However, if the executor - or anyone else - was left even a pound in the will, then that pound can be taken from them as it's still technically "mine" and thus still technically owed to whoever I owed it to. Otherwise, "dying" would be a fabulous way to legitimise an awful lot of criminally-obtained money and assets that don't belong to you.

        The difficulty then arises from shared properties, etc. My estate might include only half a house (half of a family home, for example). The companies are quite right to pursue the value of that half of the house - even if it means the other owner needing to sell it, or take on half the debt themselves so that they own all the house. Similar things happen with longer term contracts, e.g. cars, phones, etc.

        In terms of contracts, technically I might have breached contract, and that might incur a fee on myself, which - because I'm dead - is a debt on the account. However, a late payment fee when you're dead is a bit overzealous. It has to be said that payments don't get much more "late" than that, but there's no way for me to reasonably fulfil that part of the contract upon my death. The fee, therefore, is probably not pursuable. However, my estate would still need to return any phone tied to the contract, outstanding monies, etc. The executors of my estate can't just not pay my bills if there's even a penny left in my estate.

        However, unlike many people think, those debts CANNOT be transferred onto other people directly, even the executor, unless there's some kind of major mismanagement of the estate (i.e. fiddling!). If I owe £100, my dad isn't legally required to pay it for me now, and the same is true if either of us dies. The problems stems when people are too keen to distribute the assets and not the debts, because then that involves clawing back inherited assets from people and redistributing them.

        Oh, and be careful who you appoint as executor. I know of one person (legally trained) who has been appointed "joint executor" with her arch nemesis (not legally trained) from the other side of the family. That's just ASKING for trouble.

    2. Fading Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: A debt is still a debt.

      An unsecured debt is unsecured against anything - not even the estate. As such, whilst you can't take it with you when you go, time it right and you can take a hell of a lot of the credit card companies :o)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Missing part....

    ...did he actually inform them?

    if not, lets rewrite this:

    Automated system not linked to registry office details and therefore fails to realise that someone has died using ESP.

    As for the DD message, probebrly unique to that bank and maybe even that type of account. i don't know this bit, just guessing.

    1. Pie

      Re: Missing part....

      They didn't know because the 'system' at Virgin didn't pick up the Deceased part of the DD not being paid as significant. If they hadn't of printed Deceased on the bill then this would of been sorted with a phone call, but the automated system didn't pick it up....

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Way over the top

    The son in law should have just phoned Virgin and they would have waived the late payment and the next months charges.

    This is why, when somebody dies an executor takes control. It is their responsibility to inform the likes of Virgin and to pay any outstanding bills from the deceased estate.

    Having been in the same situation myself, I can tell you that every single company I contacted, from mobile phone provider to internet provider and more, were extremely helpful and went out of their way so ensure that everything was handled to my satisfaction.

    1. Lamont Cranston

      Re: Way over the top

      Tsk. You'll never get your 15 minutes of fame if you insist on behaving like a grown up.

    2. Colin Miller

      Re: Way over the top

      Buried in the letter sent to VM is "Oh, and despite my wife telling you our sad news as well.",

      which (to me) means that Mrs Boyden did tell VM that her father had died, but VM forgot to cancel the subscription.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Way over the top

      Sorry AC, you are wrong. Have just been through this for my late Father in Law and every company behaved exactly as you state EXCEPT Virgin.

      They are virtually impossible to contact. When we finally got through to their Help Desk they were completely unhelpful and on several occasions the line mysteriously went dead during the discussions. They wouldn't even allow us to terminate the account without speaking to the account holder - difficult when he is dead. The bill got inflated month after month after month. Several times they claimed they had stopped all charges - only for even larger charges to appear the following month - coupled with a complete denial of the previous agreement.

      The only satisfying outcome is that all members of our family have since ceased all dealings with Virgin and I personally wil NEVER buy anything from them. They are a disgrace - the sooner the World is rid of the cancer that is Virgin Media the better.

    4. FlatEarther

      Re: Way over the top

      "This is why, when somebody dies an executor takes control. It is their responsibility to inform the likes of Virgin and to pay any outstanding bills from the deceased estate."

      I don't believe that is the case. In Australia, Executors are required to " advertise in newspapers and the Government Gazette calling for creditors having claims against the estate to give notice of the claim within two months".

      If Virgin does not contact the executor and misses the notice, they have no claim. Of course, it may be different in the UK, but much of Australian law is still based on UK law

      1. LateNightLarry

        Re: Way over the top

        California has a similar law, and I would guess that most states have something along that line. When my MIL passed, she had very few bills, and we had enough cash from her accounts to pay them off. The only bill we got as a result of the legal notice was a bill from Medi-Cal, for care my FIL had received some years previously. It had been "suspended" until Mom passed, then we got hit for $11,000 from Medi-Cal... Got a far bigger bill from our attorney fighting my wife's neices, who were determined to break Mom's wills (two of them) to get half the estate. The two wills left everything to my wife, and didn't mention the neices at all... Trouble was, Mom didn't have a lawyer write either of the wills (one was on the State Bar statutory will form, the other was handwritten, which is legal in California). Cost us over $20,000 in legal fees, which we got back later from the estate, and we're no longer talking to the b**ch neices...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Remember Fawlty Towers ?

    "The Kipper and the Corpse".

    Sybil rushes to type up a bill and leaves it in the dead mans pocket. (Saying "We'd better not charge him for breakfast").

  10. Terry 6 Silver badge
    FAIL

    Fined!!!

    Some of you are missing the point.

    It's not simply that they sent the bill for a contract that had, with the customer, deceased. But that they slapped on a penalty charge due to non-payment of the direct debit due to death of account holder.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fined!!!

      See previous responses that point out that bill generation is usually not even seen by a human.

      Enough said.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fined!!!

      They did not know that the customer was dead. The refusal message ("D.D Denied-Payer deceased") is not a death notification. The message does not mean anything and would never even have been seen by a human.

      It was the responsibility of the executor (son-in-law) to inform Virgin of the death.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Fined!!!

        Bull!

        I work on coupling systems between banks, insurance companies and brokers. At least in this country (not the UK) there are ways of doing this. Yes, messages contain a human readable text message, but they also contain status numbers - which relate to the explicit reason why the message has been generated.

        Most messages get processed automatically. Some create tasks in the CRM people for customer service people to deal with manually when it can't be dealt with automatically.

        Simply announcing that this is an automated message and so there is nothing a company can do about it is what makes people hate the IT industry so much! Blame the people making the tools, don't use the tools as an excuse!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Fined!!!

          > Yes, messages contain a human readable text message, but they also contain status numbers - which relate to the explicit reason why the message has been generated.

          And in this case the response code would have been 146 which means DD Setup is in disabled mode.

          Perhaps the protocol you use has a vast array of return codes including one that means "the customer is dead", but the ones I'm familiar with only have a couple of generic failure codes with a textual information field.

          Besides that, the bank isn't an authority source for who is alive or dead and a company should require more than a text field in a DD refusal before it believes they are dead and suspends all of their services.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Fined!!!

            The responses we use have 1 to 1 id to description field, so yes something that distinct should be caught (IMHO).

            The bank should not be a source of information, but...

            If the company cares about customer service then they should have checks and controls in place to ensure that automated responses do not cause this type of distress. This is not a standard payment declined message and even if it is one ID with multiple messages the message broker should pick up something this sensitive to create a task for a real person to look at in more detail. If not all messages were known when creating the message broker (but ug why not!!!!) then I could live with it happening once.

            There is *no* excuse for blaming computers in this type of thing unless that blame is along the lines of 'Sorry, we screwed up royally when making our system and our internal team are busy looking into how we can ensure this never happens again"

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    @ Nuked...

    "Until consumers use the weapon of choice to hold these providers to higher standards of behaviour, then they (we) will continue to be shafted with near-criminal fines/charges, and p1ss-poor customer service. Ala Energy, Water, Mobile Phones etc. etc."

    When all of these companies are as bad as each other with their 7 pages of terms and conditions in miniscule font size, and their faceless automated "customer service" systems, and their cartel like shared monopolies on these markets; other than doing away with gas, electricity, water, telecoms completely and effectively going to live in a field... exactly which weapon of "choice" is it that you think you have?

    1. Evan Essence
      Happy

      @Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

      There are smaller energy companies with very good customer service and high standards generally. Not the cheapest, obviously, but not way out of line either. They're just a quick Internet search away.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We used to do it all the time

    but it was before facebook.

    In our case it was because of using minimum wage school dropouts to do the tedious task of compiling letters about tax, they would happily just paste in the account header, which ended up as 'Dear Joe Bloggs - Deceased' without a care in the world. You couldn't even properly reprimand them when it came back as a complaint, as they didn't give a toss about the job.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Question

    If he died in a hospice he was presumably living there (and not at home) - so wouldn't he have cancelled his broadband anyway when he moved out? or was the son living in the house using the VM services? Dunno.

    Either way I can see how this thing can happen with an automated system, and think that a call to VM would have sufficed to get it sorted. The action seems a bit to 'publicity hungry' for me.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Question

      Cancelling Virgin Media without charges is really difficult.

      Not as hard as cancelling BT, but nearly.

      Being infirm and in a hospice, he will have had much more important things to do.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Question @Richard 12

        Actually when I moved house I've found BT so easy to cancel, even within contract periods...

        I told them I am moving, they said OK do you want ot move your service?

        No, I don't have a BT line where I am moving, they said OK and canceled service with no charges from the date I moved out....

        The worst thing about BT is their damned Indian call centers, getting better now the employees have experience, but still, can barely understand them!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Debt after death

    The only debt written off at death is gambling debts. AFAIK...

    1. Darryl

      Re: Debt after death

      Unless they send Guido and Rocco over to break your son's kneecaps instead...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Debt after death

      AFAIK there is no legal recourse to pay of gambling debts ever. I suppose it could be conceived as a civil contract. But I'm not a professional to know.

      1. David Neil

        Re: Debt after death

        They became legally recoverable under the Gambling Act 2005, with the relevant provision enacted on 1 Sept 2007

    3. Allan 1

      Re: Debt after death

      Actually in the UK, the only debt NOT written off in the event of a death, is HMRC (tax).

      If a debt cannot be recovered from the deceased persons estate, its written off. Its not tradition, its not "being nice", its the law.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Yet another Virgin Media fail.

    Virgin Media in poor Customer Service scandal?

    Why does this not surprise me in the least.

    The only scandal I can see is why people continue to persist in using Branson's cable service, knowing that they subscribe to the "customer is always wrong" school of customer service.

  16. Horned-Devil
    FAIL

    This is a pretty big fail on whomever set up/designed the automated billing system - the DD responses are standard (although I am maybe 8 years out of date on last working on a system): https://datacash.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/471/~/addacs,-auddis-and-arudd-reason-codes

    It SHOULDN'T have been tough to have dealt with this.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just for the record

    When my wife died, I rang Tesco mobile to inform them and they wrote the outstanding balance off. Not sure if I read it right, but I though Virgin has stated that they'd already sorted this prior to it going viral?

    1. Corinne

      Re: Just for the record

      When my best friend died recently her mother had the same - very sympathetic letter & automatic write off of everything owed. However that was Virgin, the company under discussion here, rather than Tesco.

  18. Martin 71 Silver badge
    WTF?

    One thing I haven't seen commented on yet: ONLY a court of law can apply a 'fine'. Others may apply a penalty charge if mentioned in the contract, but legally, it is NOT a fine. I'd have let virgin mediocre try to put that one through the courts.

  19. Ketlan
    Happy

    You gotta laugh...

    ''Being deceased, it's probably slipped his mind' says son-in-law'

    Don'tcha love a guy with a sense of (wicked) humour.

  20. Kieron Edwards
    Facepalm

    Is there a Doctor in this article?

    "Social networking expert Dr Lisa Harris, head of the digital marketing master's degree programme at the University of Southampton"

    Jesus wept.

    1. Evan Essence

      Re: Is there a Doctor in this article?

      Yes, if only Virgin Media had managed their Facebook and Twitter accounts in a better way, this fiasco would never have happened.

  21. John F***ing Stepp

    Back before Data Base systems became ubiquitous

    I once wrote "Not interested, dead" in the call back book.

    That came back to bite me of course.

  22. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    So they have a team who intercede in these cases?

    Bah!

    In my day we used to code Cobol programs wi' conditional clause t' spot that sort o' thing an' deal wi' it proper like. This is what you get when y'use languages intended fer writin systems software in instead o' a proper data processin' wun.

    Kids! Tch!

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Daniel B.

      Yes

      it's mentioned in the letter.

    2. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      FAIL

      Bad idea calling people clueless when you didn't read the article properly.

  24. BongoJoe Silver badge
    WTF?

    I recently received a letter from an insurance company for a departed family member

    "Dear Mrs Smith (Deceased"

    "We note that you haven't renewed your insurance policy with us...."

    I should have done the same and showed the bastards up in a similar fashion.

  25. peter 45
    Happy

    It is not so difficult

    Was executor of my late father and contacted BT to inform them of his death and the fact he would no longer be needing his telephone.

    The would not talk to me cos I was not the account holder, so I sent them a death certificate and informed them I was the executor....they would still not speak to me cos i was not the account holder.

    I sent a letter telling them to get in touch if he owed any money and to make a claim on his estate. No response.

    During this time, there were letters kept being sent to him that he owed money and the matter was being put in the hands of collection agencies. Each time I sent a letter re-itterating that he was dead and to send me any claims in the estate.

    After I had wound up the estate I got a letter telling me that money was owed for the period after he died and that I was now responsible. I told them they had failed to make a claim on the estate within the required timescale and to take the matter to court if they wanted to.

    Never heard back.

  26. OzBob
    Meh

    If you die in the military.,...

    and have been paid for days you have not technically "served", they have tried to claw-back that overpayment before. A similar outcry resulted in it being halted, but it takes exceptions like this to sometimes highlight the flaws in the system.

  27. John Robson Silver badge
    WTF?

    Surely....

    These things come from a small set of bank systems.

    They've seen this kind of thing happen before - so why not map all DD messages, only ones you haven't seen before need a human interaction. That would be busy work for a few hours (to look at the historical values) and then only need to deal with exceptions...

    1. Daniel B.
      Boffin

      Re: Surely....

      The fun thing is that another commenter posted a link to the Direct Debit codes, and there's a specific one for "Payer Deceased".

      They can automate the workflow to cancel contract, service, and Direct Debit charges!

  28. Cyclist
    Thumb Down

    How many more?

    Presumably VM customers are dying at a regular rate and unpaid DDs are being generated by the deceased's banks for a proportion of these deaths, so why isn't this a regular event? Something that should be a routine bit of processing suddenly errors but apparently only for this one individual case? Sounds to me as though something happened during processing and something that ordinarily would be trapped and dealt with appropriately slipped through.

    I hold no brief for companies like VM, but punters who instantly turn to social media to prove how inhuman these companies are when it comes to dealing with deceased customers, they lose my vote straight away they do.

    Like Al Murray often says, #NotNews

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Windows

    "they recognise that everyone needs a Twitter and a Facebook account, "

    In the words of Royston Vasey.. Fucking guess again!!!!

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    well shite I coulda been famous?

    is there ANYONE who handled a dead parent's estate who didn't encounter exactly this? Especially when it is easily fixed with a phone call and the faxing of death certificate and powers of attorney paperwork? You mean all I had to do was be a putz and post the bill on Facebook instead of just dealing with it like everyone else has to and I'd have been famous with thousands of followers?

    especially when it was corrected by simply notifying them of the situation and providing legal proof?

    Lemme balance that with my experience.

    My dad lived where broadband DSL was shite.So he got some sort of 3G based broadband service attached to his desktop. he passes away and since there's no will, I get to hire an attorney to help me get the paperwork settled. It;s been a couple years so I forget the outfit's name but as I worked my ay through piles of bills I find the late-payment-nastygram from this outfit. Do I run to FB like a entitled whinger? Nope, I call them and tell them who I am, and what has happened. The lady offers her condolences and at my request cancels the service. I ask her to send me the final bill for the services and past due (including time dad WAS using the service) and she says no need, slate's wiped clean, don't even worry about sending back the receiver/modem, just get us the certificate and notarized power of atty. faxed over in the next couple of weeks whenever I got time.

    Even evil Comcast waived late fees and removed billing for services the month after the death date. they still wanted the whole month in which he passed in the middle, wanted their settop box mailed back and all the paperwork BEFORE they'd do anything, but a simple, civil phone call did the deed.

    credit cards, same thing. No worries. Medical bills however got kinda nasty, which made the attorney useful.

    Proving once again being a responsible adult, taking care of business and being proactive instead of waiting for someone else to "fix" things is detrimental to fame and sympathy.

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